Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivvukah 2013

Particularly because it happens once every 70,000 years...

I have always felt that it is most important to be thankful, on a daily basis, and I welcome the opportunity of Thanksgiving to teach Raphaela that we should express gratitude for the people who influenced us and the places that gave us context for our lives.

Each Thanksgiving we are in Jerusalem, we join 40 or so expats at the Inbal Hotel and feast upon the traditional holiday foods and listen to music.  Between the turkey overload and the lateness of the evening, Raphaela and I crash as soon as we get home, regretfully knowing that we must wake up on time the next morning for Gan, and Israeli normal life.

This year, bonus, we can pig out Thursday night and sleep in Friday morning, because Chanukah and Thanksgiving overlap, almost as if we were celebrating with our family in the States!

With a talented jazz band playing in the background, we enjoyed our meal surrounded by friends.  Among the varied meats and side dishes, there appeared latkes, and for dessert, along with the usual fare, the table featured jelly doughnuts, in the spirit of Thanksgivukkah. 

Caught up in the atmosphere, Raphaela disappeared on and off to explore the hotel, and would then come running back into the room, curls bouncing, grabbing the hands of strangers so they could dance with her.

I think this is the first time since her birth that she has basically amused herself, allowing me to have a truly grown-up social experience. I didn't want to leave.

In the car on the way home, Raphaela and I reminisced, replaying our favorite moments of the evening.  Raphaela's recollection of the meal?  "Man, those cucumbers were mighty tasty!"

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Thanksgivukkah Cucumbers (Family Recipe)

Peel cucumber, cut into round slices (thin or thick, as per preference)
Place in serving bowl, serve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Conclusion to the Car Story

The painter, whose lack of expertise caused the initial damage to the car, did not allow me to take the car to my garage for repairs, since he was footing the bill. Instead, he recommended his people IE he wanted a place in Jerusalem that was owned by and only employed religious Jews, rather than our Arab cousins.

Last week I dropped off the car, and two days later they called me to report that they had worked "very hard" and that it was clean and ready to come home.  When I went to pick it up, I inspected their work, and it quickly became obvious that not only had they not done any work at all, but also that areas of the paint that had been previously undamaged were now worse than before.

When I confronted them, I got the run around, "Well, you would have to talk to the owner of the garage, who is my father, but he is not here now and I have no idea when he would be available to speak to you."  "We are very busy now anyway and it would have to wait a few weeks, no harm, no foul." And it went on like that, so I called the painter and made my position clear:  I would be taking the car to my people whom I trust and have used for the last 13 years, and that he would be paying for it.

The painter agreed, and this morning we all met at my garage, where we came to a settlement regarding the damage done and the cost of the repair.  This afternoon I received a call from my guys, saying that they didn't know what products the other garage had used, and beyond the obvious damage of the paint splatter, the acidic material had eaten through the paint job on the entire car, and that if I truly wanted to get the job done well, I would have pay another 5000 NIS for a complete reconstruction.

I considered the hassle and the cost, and asked the most real question, "Is the car terribly ugly?"  They replied that unless you really looked at the paint in bright sunlight, it could pass without serious notice.

As a single mother with far more important life concerns than the aesthetics of my car, I passed on their offer, instructing them to do what they could with the monies already paid.  I have neither the inclination nor the strength to consider a law suit.

As my mother would say, "It's a kaparah!"*

I still intend to call the painter and his "trusty garage," and let them know that just because someone is wearing a skullcap and has a larger than life picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe hanging in their space, does not mean that they do better work than the Arabs, who actually have shown me more professionalism in this field in the last 16 years that I have lived in Israel.

That's enormous coming from me, a woman who was almost killed by a Palestinian sniper during the Second Intifada, as an artist who appreciates beauty, and a Jew who has great respect for the person who was the Lubavitcher Rebbe; I met him in person in New York while studying at Barnard College, and regardless of the misdirection his movement has taken, he was truly a man connected to himself and to the Higher Power.

My Inner Voice and that Higher Power are telling me to move on.

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kaparah = a Hebrew term for a situation where you are suffering a little in order to avoid a Divine decree to suffer a hell of a lot more than you could ever imagine; Some superstitious version of the Jewish guilt/martyrdom complex.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Miles To Go

In anticipation of the annual Gan Chanukah party, Raphaela spent almost two weeks singing the songs and showing me the elaborate dance moves her teacher had choreographed.  As she got dressed in her festive outfit for the party, she could not contain her enthusiasm, Raphaela was literally bouncing off the walls.

When we arrived, the large room filled up quickly, stuffed end to end with teachers and parents and grandparents and siblings and the children, the stars of the show.  That's when Raphaela went into performance anxiety/stage fright mode, and for most of the planned program sat on the side while her classmates gave their parents photo opportunities.

Toward the end of the Chanukah play, Raphaela made an attempt to join the group, but one of her teachers pushed her to the side, telling her that it was too late.

Needless to say, I felt confused and disappointed, despite my too clear recollection of the Purim costume melt-down last year.  And the reason that we stopped swimming lessons, and didn't even attempt ballet this year.

(I made excuses for it, maybe she was tired or maybe that is just her independent spirit.)

When we got home, Raphaela asked me if I was angry at her because she didn't participate, and I tried to not invest too much negative emotion in my reply.  I answered her that I was not angry, rather disappointed and sad for her;  that she did not participate, considering that I knew that she knew all the moves and knowing that she was looking forward to the event, and that it would have been fun and rewarding for her.

Raphaela reaffirmed that if she doesn't want to do something, she "will not do it."

I could not fall asleep last night, feeling like a bit of a failure as a parent, thinking about other parents talking about the debacle behind our back, and the worst feeling, that her teachers would somehow think less of Raphaela and treat her differently because of her adamant refusal.  As well, I felt frustrated because I had no spouse or partner, or even family with whom I could flesh out the issue.

This afternoon, Raphaela told me that several of her teachers had confronted her today about her behavior, and that it made her feel "icky from the icky words."

Having adopted the life philosophy that I am not going to allow lousy feelings to build up inside me, I left a message for her head teacher today, that I would like to speak to her when she had free time and the opportunity to brainstorm.  We spoke for almost 20 minutes, and I expressed my concern that while I admire Raphaela's determination and single minded-ness, I am afraid that she will not learn the benefits of being part of a group, that sometimes the rules of society are not objectionable.

I explained to her teacher that I too live "outside the box," in the sense that I generally do not care what others think of me, and that I will question the rules rather than following blindly.  However, having 45 years or so experience of doing things The Hard Way, I have come to appreciate that receiving help and dipping into the pool of the groupthink every once in a while moves things along nicely.

Hila, her teacher, admitted that she was quite surprised at Raphaela's behavior, that in rehearsals my daughter had shone and had been expected to be the star of the play.  Hila also suggested that rather than shyness, Raphaela seemed confused and overwhelmed by the large crowd.  We agreed together to meet and to discuss a long term educational plan suited for my daughter, to teach her how to straddle Raphaela World along with the rest of reality.

Yet, I am still having trouble letting go of the sadness and that sense of failure.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This morning, while taking Raphaela to Gan, I received the highest compliment:  one of the parents of another child in Raphaela's class was running late, could not find a parking space and was blocking traffic.  He saw me and said, "Excuse me, my son is in your daughter's class, would you take him into school today?"

I agreed with pleasure, and walked with two talkative children to Gan instead of one, grateful to see Raphaela holding hands and playing happily with her friend, and for the trust that this father placed in me.

And the best part, when Raphaela stood by the window of her classroom and waved good bye to me (as has become our custom each morning), this little boy stood there along side her, both of them throwing me air kisses and wishing me a great day.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Good Fences

For the past 14.5 years, I have lived on the same street in Jerusalem, a dead end with three buildings, and I have jumped from one to the other to the other. 

Approximately seven years ago, a drunk boy (now a "reformed" Ultra Orthodox man) driving back from a party hit my parked car and severely dented in its side.  What resulted was a series of accusations and a lack of cooperation from the offender, which led us to court, which led to several dirty acts of retaliation by the hands of the family members of this boy.

As it happens, the boy and his family are now my downstairs neighbors.  Awkward.

Awkward when I moved across the street and started parking in the new lot, only to find verbally abusive anonymous notes on my car, demanding that I park where I live and not in "their private spaces."  I responded by posting a note on the door of my new building saying,
"For the general information of the residents:  the blue Scenic and its owner now live here and we are your neighbors.  We have as much right to use a parking space as you do.  And by the way, the blue Scenic and its owners also have a cat named Harry. He is not a street cat and he has a collar, so if you see him sitting next to the door waiting for me to let him in, do not chase him away.  Thank you."

More awkward when this week I went to my car, an automobile that stays parked for most of the time, except for a few excursions to the supermarket or the very occasional drive to Tel Aviv for a Chiropractic Board meeting.  I noted that for no reasonable explanation, my car, Cher*, which had previously been the color navy blue, was now spotted with a sparkly white paint, everywhere.  On the roof, on the windows and the sides of the car.

After several inquiries around the building, I discovered that my neighbors, the same French neighbors who years ago behaved badly as far as my car and I were concerned, had in fact been painting this week, and that the paint job of several of the other neighbor's cars had been destroyed in the process.

DEJA VU...

I girded myself for battle, trying to figure out the best way to approach the situation:
"You ruined my car and you must compensate me!"  (Nope, too direct and immediately belligerent, even for Israelis.)
"I know you were painting this week, and I know that you are aware of the damage your painter caused!" ( Nope, still a touch on the belligerent side, leaving very little room for kindness and negotiation.)
"Tell me, do you know if any of the neighbors were painting inside their house this week?"  (Nope, I cannot pull off the Stupid na├»ve thing, and I need to start with a certain position of strength.)

Finally, I knocked on the door and started with, "Hi, I need to ask you a question."

Before I could proceed, the woman of the house said, "And I already know the answer to your question."  She continued, explaining that her painter ("who is a very trustworthy and honest man...") tried a new machine for spraying the paint, and that he was unaware of the damage he had caused until after it happened; and that they had been so busy this week that they hadn't had the time to come to me before I came to them; and that they are already looking into estimates to get the cars of all the neighbors fixed and polished.

Then she suggested, with kindness of course, that they would be willing to buy me a tarp to cover my car until it was repaired, since it now looked so hideous.

OK then.  Much less traumatic than I had anticipated, and that is a good thing.  Now begins the waiting game, but with several families breathing down their neck, here's hoping these people don't take too long to take care of the problem.

*  My car's name is Cher because the first song that came on the radio when she was new and shiny was "I got you Babe" by Sonny and Cher.  Figuring that I did not want to name my baby after a former Congressman who smashed into a tree and died while skiing, I went with his partner's name instead.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Story of Chanukah by Raphaela

Once there was a wicked king named Antiochus, from ["Mommy, what's the name of that country again?" "Greece." "Right...] Greece, and he broke the Temple and threw the Torah into the fire.  Antiochus also had elephants.

The Macabees were very sad because of the idols that Antiochus put inside the Temple, so they threw the idols into the fire.  With the elephants.

Then the Macabees had to fix the Temple and it was very hard for them, so Noah helped them, because Noah already had vast experience in building and fixing things. ["Mommy, he did a great job with the Ark, and it was very big!"]

Then the Macabees went into the cave and played dreidel.

The End

Rehab for Antiochus (Channukah I)

Raphaela has shown a consistent tendency to see the best in people, and to try to rehabilitate the reputation of the less than positive figures she encounters. 

For example, the Wolf (from children's opera Peter and the Wolf) started as the enemy, the eater of the duck and evolved into a household pet.  During the period of her obsession with this show, her wolf doll went everywhere with her and was the focus of all her imaginary play.  The Wolf had emotional needs for hugs and kisses, which she happily provided.

Now we have a new candidate for her Social Services:  Antiochus the Ancient Greek king who destroyed the Temple in the time of the Chanukah story, the holiday we Jews will celebrate in about two weeks time.  They have started teaching the song and symbols of Chanukah at Gan, partially in preparation for the parents' party, and I have heard much about Antiochus, how he wanted everyone to do what he did, how he put a "stupid idol" in the Jewish Temple, and how he focused on outer banalities like beauty rather than morality and devotion to G-d.  (Yes, this is what my four year old learns at Gan...)

And yet, I think Raphaela feels badly for him in some way, that he has such a terrible role as the baddie of the Chanukah story; so Antiochus has begun to join us at playtime and at the dinner table, and when he behaves nicely, I am informed by my daughter that "Antiochus deserves a cookie."

I love and admire the loving acceptance that Raphaela shows to others, both real and imaginary, and I hope that life does not disappoint her when reality sets in, that not everyone can be saved.

Just wait until I have to tell her the real story behind Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Free Gital

Doubtless you have read or heard the story making the rounds in the New York Press and throughout the Jewish world: Gital, law student and suffering wife of the great-grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein*, this man refuses to give his wife a Get, employing the logic of "If she doesn't want me, then no one can have her."  If even half of what Gital reports about their brief marriage is true, then indeed, this Ultra-Orthodox couple got married too young and this man is a controlling bastard; unfortunately, their three year old has become collateral damage as well.

She only went to the press to plead her case with the public after it became clear that her community would not extricate her and her baby from a terrible situation.

Gital's feeling of helpless-ness saddens me the most, she states that already after their second "date" she already expressed that she did not want to marry him, and was pushed into the relationship. When she felt miserable and trapped and abused almost immediately after the wedding ceremony, she claims that she could not reach out for help, not even to her own parents, for fear of shaming her family.  That this woman was not even given the option of holding off on pregnancy until the marriage had solidified (or not) speaks volumes about the unrealistic and antiquated matchmaking and family practices of the Ultra Orthodox.

I pause, allowing myself to remember the cardinal rule on Star Trek, that of non-interference.  Perhaps it is not my place, or that of the press or the public to impose our own sense of morality upon another community.  Then I remember that each Captain of the Enterprise eventually violated that line in the sand, stepping in when it seemed not only necessary but vital to the survival of the future.

And so I say, the time has come to officially expose the Ultra Orthodox community in their mistreatment and generalized debasement of the rights of women, and good for Gital for seeking outside help.

I close with two stories from my personal experience in my Chiropractic Clinic:

Many years ago, when I started working in Israel, an "older" IE over thirty woman became my patient.  Well educated and gainfully employed, combined with her age, she was categorized as a lost cause within her community, and told that she should marry the first man who looks her way, because she "cannot be too picky."  She married a man who has been since banned from my office for bad behavior:  boorish, perpetually unemployed, obese and apparently covered in burn scars on half his body, this woman married so far below what she deserved for herself and her life.  Several years later, three children later, she works full time as the Principal of an Ultra Orthodox school, and suffers daily. But she is not allowed to complain because she must be grateful than any man was willing to have sex with her.

Yesterday, another patient, an older Arab woman came in for her maintenance care Chiropractic adjustment.  In the past year, her daughter, a young woman with two children, died suddenly and mysteriously;  because of questions about her death, her burial was delayed and the whole family lived a nightmare.  When this woman came in yesterday, I asked about her grandchildren, how they were coping these days with the loss of their mother.  "They have a new Mama," she answered.  It seems that the husband was forced to remarry rather quickly to a woman he didn't really know and doesn't love, because "someone has to be a mother to those children."

When I suggested that it might have been easier to hire a baby sitter or nanny, my patient responded, "That's how we do things."



*  Ironically, Rav Moshe was one of the first Orthodox Rabbis in the 20th century to actively fight for the rights of Jewish women in cases of divorce and Agunah  [Hebrew for a woman trapped in a marriage by her husband]

Monday, November 4, 2013

Recycling Crisis

This morning, as I stood in the kitchen preparing Raphaela's mid-day snack for school, I heard her cry out, "Mommy, there's been a terrible mistake!"

I found her standing over the recycling bag in our house, pulling out sheet after sheet of her drawings and scribblings, that had somehow (wink wink) ended up in the garbage and that someone (pointing finger at myself) had not yet had the opportunity to take to the recycling bin downstairs.

"How could this have happened?" she lamented.  "My drawing, my creations, we must rescue them."

There are days that Raphaela returns from Gan with pages of exercises they have done in the classroom that day, along with random pictures that she has drawn in her spare time.  I generally look through the group, save one or two that show uniqueness and emotion, and remove the rest.  Just yesterday, she presented me with an astounding drawing - for a four year old - of our family, with bobble head people and a bobble head cat, we all have a golden yellow halo around us.  With clouds and a sun in the sky and green grass below us, it's a keeper, and I am even planning on laminating it for posterity.

But not every project she brings home represents Great Art, and in the interest of maintaining some sense of order in the house, I thin the herd so to speak.

All this has improved my acting skills, when I put on my saddest most surprised face and say, "Oy!  How terrible!  We must fix this problem right now..."  (IE I must throw out the garbage while she is at Gan.)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

We watch Doctor Who, though when I feel it is inappropriately creepy or scary for a four year old, I do shut it off immediately.  But it is fair to say that both Raphaela and I are fans of the show.

This past Shabbat at lunch, Raphaela called the husband of our hostess a Potato Head, because sadly, he did look a little like a walking potato, referencing one of the characters on Doctor Who (Strax) to whom he bore a similarity.

I was not paying particular attention until I heard the man say, "Are you calling me a Potato Head?!" I attempted damage control, trying to explain that she was talking about a television program, but alas, not much can be done about the honest outbursts of a four year old.